Curse. Swear. Expletive. Oath. Profanity. Cuss. Invective. Malediction.
Virtually everyone does it; from presidents to the smart-mouthed kid next door. Swear words may be pithy or profane, mild or malevolent, productive or pointless. Even mild euphemisms such as darn, shoot, and heck are simply substitutes for the “real” thing, and everyone knows exactly what you mean (sorry Grandma).
It follows, then, that fictional characters will also run a blue streak from time to time, and most readers would find it strange if they didn’t. Swear words are verbal emotions; cathartic for the speaker, able to evoke a visceral response in the hearer. It’s a non-physical way to let people know how you really feel and a powerful part of our interaction with others.
I grew up in a household where the strongest language included hells bells, ship ahoy, and crappola. Why? My parents were determined to raise respectful, educated children and they believed excessive swearing was a sign of moral failure and below average intelligence. Consequently, the cuss words I generally use are mild and infrequent and this spills over to the characters of my books.
I find strong language offensive (especially the F-word), and have no interest in creating foul-mouthed characters, even if it makes them more realistic. I believe I can convey the proper meaning and attitude with minimal obscenities, and my readers seem to agree.
I can’t tell you how many times I have stopped reading due to excessive use of profanity, even though the story up to that point was quite good. You might be surprised how much I put up with, but if the writer can’t tell the story without gratuitous curses every other sentence I will look elsewhere for my entertainment. Your standards and mine may differ, and that’s OK – just don’t expect to find F-bombs scattered through the pages of my books!
Here’s a few quotes I like:
“Grant me some wild expressions, Heavens, or I shall burst.” George Farquhar
“The foolish and wicked practice of profane cursing and swearing is a vice so mean and low that every person of sense and character detests and despises it.” George Washington
“I think the reason that swearing is both so offensive and so attractive is that it is a way to push people’s emotional buttons, and especially their negative emotional buttons.” Steven Pinker
“There ought to be a room in every house to swear in. It’s dangerous to have to repress an emotion like that.” Mark Twain
“I’ve never found an interesting person with a foul mouth.” Marilyn vos Savant
“Swearing was invented as a compromise between running away and fighting.” Finley Peter Dunne
“Writing for adults often means just increasing the swearing – but find an alternative to swearing and you’ve probably got a better line.” Steven Moffat
“Profane swearing never did any man any good. No man in the richer or wiser or happier for it.” Robert Lowth
You may find these resources interesting:
Why Do We Swear? by John M. Grohol, Psy.D.
What’s Wrong with Swearing? from the Cuss Control Academy
Well, that’s more than enough from me today. Time to get some $!#*&@ writing done!